The story of the deaf stonemason


All Writings, Blog, Observations / Monday, September 3rd, 2018

In sharing this story, I take a particular pleasure.  What this man did for us is of truly lasting value.  He worked diligently at our place for just a few days.  In those few days, he endeared himself by the way he worked, his mannerisms, how he paid no attention to supervision, and in all these things producing beautiful results in the most efficient, quick manner possible.  So let me tell you more about this man – this stonemason – who worked as one member of a team of workers when we were having some major renovation done.

Let me provide you with some specific details about this stonemason. His real name is Arun; sounds close to Aaron.  This man came from another state to work here during the labor season in New Delhi.  (More on that later)  He was probably in his late 40s or his early 50s, around 5 feet and 6 inches tall (167.64 Centimeters) and had the strong hands and legs that men doing physical labor develop.  He was already ready with a smile.  One thing that did distress him through the day was stiffness and pain in the knees.  You see, while working, he would have to sit down on his haunches for long periods to cut the marble and other stone according to the precise length and desired shape.  Since he had been doing this for about 25 years or more, his knees started to get stiff.  He would periodically take a break, but only when he had to.  He did not just take a break and not want to work.  Looking at him work at a considerable speed in which he would sometimes leave his fellow workers behind, it never seemed as though he even wanted to slow down or not do his best.  Doing his best was simply his nature!

The stonemason’s method

As mentioned before, since he had been doing this work for half his life – coming to about 25 years – he had become quite proficient.  His favorite tool – also the reason for deafness – was a stone cutting machine with a circular blade.  He took one look at the project for the day, took one measurement of the area and one measurement of the slab of marble or Kota stone, and his cutting and putting it in place was final.  Quite surprisingly to us, he never made a single mistake in the few days he worked.  That was very pleasing to see and, of course, it was impressive.

Just to give you an idea, I am mentioning a comparison which is something I most avoid.  We had another stonemason working before this one.  That man was the picture of patience and precision, but at the same time, he was terribly slow.  Since these workers had agreed to work for a daily wage through the contractor/ overseer we hired, a slow worker meant a personal loss to the contractor.  It was on his recommendation that we employed this new stonemason, Arun.  What the earlier stonemason accomplished in roughly 10 or more days, Arun did in 4 days.  That is quite a big difference when the tools for both workers are exactly the same.

 

What everyone got a laugh out of was how the contractor/ overseer would be screaming at Arun standing right over his head, and people in the adjoining houses could hear what he said, but the stonemason kept on merrily at his work.  He seemed like he cared less and pretended not to listen.  That was also a bit true.  When he using the stone cutting machine, it wasn’t the time to be discussing any plans.  All plans were discussed before the start of work at the beginning of the day.  All these workers used to arrive by about 9:30 AM.  Arun used to be the first to come and would courteously wait for 10 minutes or more for others to show up so they could work together.  During those 10 minutes, he would sit in the park in the front of our house, watching the birds, squirrels, plants and the people taking their morning walk.  He understood that his break would be at 12:00 or 1:00 PM.  Then, all of these would work till 5:00 PM.  Some of these seasonal laborers went home, but many started their evening shifts at other sites. 1  In the evening, these laborers earn higher wages at overtime rates, which is approximately the double of what they earn during the daylight hours.  These daily wage earners really subsist through their earnings for the day.  They cannot afford to not work for a few days in a row, or if there is an oppressive contractor he withholds their wage for a couple of days; not more.  He does so to make sure that these hired laborers don’t leave the assignment before finishing the entire project.  While on the one hand, these people are looking for work, many of them, as soon as they earn some cash become a bit complacent or lackadaisical.  It has to do also with the use of stimulants and the work culture of these folk.  They have a very hard existence, especially during the work season which coincides with the onset of cooler weather toward the end of the year.  These are the months of September through December, but usually, the end of November is their deadline.

The lesson from the stonemason and his fellow workers

The stonemason – Arun and the one before – and all the rest of these seasonal workers try to earn as much as possible, as quickly as possible before returning to their respective villages.  They all travel by train.  It takes them anywhere from 18 hours to a couple of days to get to their state, and finally back to their village communities.  I was told by a few of them, they also then have to take part in the harvest of the Rabi crops, comprising mainly of wheat and barley.  So, they go from working in the city with better earning to working as farmers and again feeding the village and city-dwellers.  How could one ever underestimate the work these people do!

Once again, a kind of wisdom and camaraderie is there to be seen in how these people work together.  They have a very clear goal, i.e., to earn as much as possible.  However, they have are not allured by the life in the city.  They don’t wish to leave their families and communities to become city-dwellers.  They want to return to that village environment.  They want the fresh air, the open spaces, the chance to jump into the river, to play with and like children, and have the joys of a simpler existence.  They get restless if they don’t stay physically active.  Most of them are very slightly built but work harder and better than many who might appear strong.  Sometimes one feels, they are working by the joy of work and less by the food they eat.

We had the joy of sitting down with them to a simple meal during their afternoon break on a couple of occasions.  They refused to sit right beside us because of class and caste consciousness, more so out of respect.  They sat outside with each other and we sat indoors.  There was just a wall with windows between us.  We could overhear them talking and it was hard to make out everything that they said, due to their local dialect.  However, anyone could tell they were happy.  We never withheld their wages, rewarded them occasionally with a little extra, and gave them cash and clothes when their projects were finished.  They were happy throughout and we never had an argument that stopped the work for even one day.  It was a beautiful experience to have them all work at our place, and it was rewarding for them as it ought to be!

The coffee table built into the wall - the Stonemason, Arun's gift!
The coffee table built into the wall – the Stonemason, Arun’s gift!

Of course, when I say they sit down and talk among each other, we cannot forget about Arun.  I saw him just stare at his co-workers and smile.  His contribution to the conversation was always loud and forceful.  It made everyone laugh all the harder, but Arun never did mind.  He understood it was all in fun and good spirit.

Since Arun had worked better than we had expected, I took him aside from all his fellow workers to reward him secretly.  It was a little extra cash which surely would have come in handy for him.  What I gave him is not important.  The more important thing is, what he gave us upon receiving the reward.  He found some extra green marble lying around.  So he cut it according to the desired shape and size and set a table in the wall especially for me to sit at.  He also put one strip of marble by the gate and said: “When you stand here in the morning, this is for you to set your cup of tea or coffee upon”.  Yes, he said that as clearly as he could.  These people gave us a chance to feel grateful by their beautiful way of working and their generous spirit, though having so little in terms of money or wealth.  These are the truly rich people.  They know how to be happy.  They know how to work hard.  They know how to make others happy.  I think they understand how to live a good life.

Footnotes

  1. It would be wrong to assume that all seasonal labor is semi-skilled.  Some of these workers have a complete set of tools and have been practicing their trade every year, for many years.  Not by learning from an institution, but by practice, they have become quite adept at what they do.
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